Hamlet: Theme of Revenge, Sample Essays

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Theme of Revenge in Hamlet Sample Essays

The Theme of Revenge

Book #12 in the Hamlet Essay Kit series  

Revenge theme in Hamlet: two young men journey from revenge, through madness and anger, to forgiveness. And a Ghost is granted the forgiveness he needed more than the revenge he demanded.

Three full sample essays on the theme of revenge in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

1

Introduction

An opportunist from the rival kingdom of Norway claims a throne left empty when two sons of Denmark destroy each other in revenge.

2

Hamlet’s ghost-father:
“Thy dread command”

The prince must choose between damning himself as a coward or damning his soul for the sin of revenge.

3

Hamlet’s aunt-mother:
“My mother stays”

Hamlet seeks to first rescue Gertrude’s soul before he condemns his uncle’s to hell.

4

Laertes:
“I’ll be your foil”

The contrast between Hamlet and Polonius’ son is not between action and delay but between reason and passion.

5

Young Fortinbras: “Lands lost by his father”

The prince gives his dying voice to the son of the man his own father killed on the day of his birth.

6

Conclusion:
“Exchange forgiveness with me”

Hamlet grants his father the forgiveness he needed more than the revenge he demanded.

Introduction

1

Theme of Revenge in Hamlet Sample Essays

24 pages
4,600 words
3 sample essays

$4.99

Theme of Revenge in Hamlet Sample Essays

Hamlet contains two revenge stories, the second triggered by the first halfway through. At the play’s end, an accidental swapping of swords between the two avengers Laertes and Hamlet is followed by a genuine exchange of forgiveness.

Their deadly duel reverses the outcome of another fought thirty years before, as Young Fortinbras from rival Norway succeeds to Denmark’s vacant throne.

Hamlet is a warning both against revenge and against revenge plays. For the cycle of vengeance begins with the title character staging a play about revenge (“a knavish piece of work … writ in choice Italian”, 3.2) that so enrages him with blind fury he kills the wrong man (“Dead for a ducat”, 3.4). In so doing, Prince Hamlet succeeded only in creating another revenge-obsessed son, Laertes, like himself.

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Key Essay Topics Covered

  • Hamlet’s is driven by three subplots centered on the legacies of three dead fathers to their sons.
  • Young Fortinbras’ legacy was gambled and lost by his father to Prince Hamlet’s father, on the day the prince was born.
  • Hamlet’s legacy is stolen by his uncle King Claudius’ secret murder of old King Hamlet.
  • Laertes’ legacy is jeopardized by his father Polonius’ unrecorded (“hugger-mugger”, 4.5) death and burial.
  • Denmark’s crown passes to a figure old King Hamlet would have admired: a reckless territory-grabber who would risk his and other’s lives over “a little patch of ground / That hath in it no profit but the name” (4.4).

Key Supporting Quotes

13
quotations from the play to support your statements.

Hamlet and his ghost-father: “Thy dread command“

2

Theme of Revenge in Hamlet Sample Essays

24 pages
4,600 words
3 sample essays

$4.99

Theme of Revenge in Hamlet Sample Essays

We, the audience, hear Claudius’ confession (“O heavy burden!”, 3.1). But what if, like Hamlet, we had not? What would we do? Lacking certain knowledge, no amount of “thinking too precisely on th’ event” (4.4) helps Hamlet, a man of reason, to reason his way to a solution. He “cudgels” his “brains” (5.1) in vain.

More generally, Hamlet’s dilemma is between acceptance and action: should we endure our world of “slings and arrows” as it is (“To be”). Or risk everything including our lives by taking on “a sea of troubles” and seek to change the world for the better? (“not to be”, 3.1).

For Christians, vengeance belongs only to God, but as Hamlet later asks Horatio, might a Christian not also “in perfect conscience!” take a life to prevent “further evil!” (5.2)?

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#Hamlet: The prince swears an oath only to "remember" his father's Ghost, not to avenge him.

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Key Essay Topics Covered

  • Hamlet does not promise to avenge the Ghost, only never to forget him: “Now to my word. / It is ’Adieu, adieu. Remember me.’ / I have sworn ’t” (1.5).
  • “Where is thy father?” (2.2). Had Ophelia asked the same question of Hamlet as he does of her, would his answer have been any less dishonest?
  • Trapped between feelings of inadequacy in this world (“Am I a coward”, 2.2) and fear of damnation in the next, the tormented Hamlet is “from himself be ta’en away” (5.2).
  • Hamlet takes refuge in a put-on “antic disposition” (1.5) that reflects Claudius’ false act of kingship, and that both hides and expresses the prince’s inner turmoil.

Key Supporting Quotes

28
quotations from the play to support your statements.

Hamlet and his aunt-mother: “Up, sword … My mother stays”

3

Theme of Revenge in Hamlet Sample Essays

24 pages
4,600 words
3 sample essays

$4.99

Theme of Revenge in Hamlet Sample Essays

It is not Claudius’ guilt but Hamlet’s secret knowledge of his father’s death and the threat he poses to the king that is revealed by The Mousetrap with its murderous figure of the nephew Lucianus.

In the chapel and closet scenes, Hamlet’s aim becomes clear: to reunite in the afterlife his fractured family of mother and father. Hence his desire to rescue Gertrude’s soul (“Confess yourself to heaven”, 3.4) before he condemns his uncle’s (“as damned and black / As hell, whereto it goes”, 3.3).

Ironically, Hamlet’s wish to damn Claudius’ soul saves the life of the apparently praying king. And his blind stabbing of Polonius only creates a second vengeful son. Like Laertes in the final scene (“as a woodcock to mine own springe”, 5.2), Hamlet is caught in his own ‘Mousetrap’.

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King Claudius is haunted by the murder he has committed. Prince #Hamlet by the murder he hasn't.

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Key Essay Topics Covered

  • Claudius is too good an actor to be exposed by the Players’ performance. It is Hamlet’s antic banter and threat on his life (“nephew to the king”, 3.3) that sends him fleeing the play.
  • King Claudius gained and holds his throne through deception. Now a rare moment of authenticity, of genuine repentence-seeking in his private chapel, saves his life: “Help, angels” (3.3).
  • The Ghost who appears minutes later in Gertrude’s closet to Hamlet (“to whet thy almost blunted purpose”, 3.4) does not show himself in the chapel, suggesting he is indeed a “goblin damned” (1.4).

Key Supporting Quotes

23
quotations from the play to support your statements.

Laertes: “I’ll be your foil”

4

Theme of Revenge in Hamlet Sample Essays

24 pages
4,600 words
3 sample essays

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Theme of Revenge in Hamlet Sample Essays

The Ghost’s revelations sent Hamlet retreating inward into untrusting isolation. Polonius’ bereaved son instead reaches outward to lead a rebellious, castle-storming mob against the king.

However, the contrast between Laertes and Hamlet is not between action and delay but between reason and passion. The prince evaded Claudius’ offer to “think of us / As of a father” (1.2). In his unthinking rage, Laertes submits to the king’s invitation: “Will you be ruled by me?” (4.7).

Hamlet reflected that “conscience does make cowards of us all” (3.1). Laertes consigns conscience “to the profoundest pit” (4.5). Hamlet knows how a man may tremble in “the dread of something after death” (3.1). Laertes dares “damnation” (4.5).

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Laertes, the avenger #Hamlet created, is also the man who pardons the prince.

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Key Essay Topics Covered

  • Laertes’ words of “a noble father lost, / A sister driven into desperate terms” (4.7) echo Hamlet’s appraisal of his own situation: “a father killed, a mother stained” (3.4).
  • “Was your father dear to you?” (4.7). Claudius’ question of a grieving Laertes is just as manipulative as old King Hamlet’s emotional blackmailing of his son: “If thou didst ever thy dear father love …” (1.5).
  • Laertes too is delayed: first by Gertrude (“But not by him.”, 4.5); then by Claudius (“I pray you, go with me.”, 4.5); and later, at his sister’s funeral, by the king, queen, Horatio and the prince himself (“Hold off thy hand”, 5.1).
  • Cunningly, Claudius sets the two sons of murdered fathers against each other in the rigged fencing match of the final scene.

Key Supporting Quotes

27
quotations from the play to support your statements.

Young Fortinbras: “Lands lost by his father”

5

Theme of Revenge in Hamlet Sample Essays

24 pages
4,600 words
3 sample essays

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Theme of Revenge in Hamlet Sample Essays

No one delays longer than Fortinbras. Thirty years lapse before he makes his move against Denmark, and then when his father’s killer is himself dead.

Elsinore’s guards unhesitatingly swear an oath with Hamlet on the prince’s sword before departing in a soldier-like band of brothers: “come, let's go together” (1.5). Laertes’ inspiring passion is capable of moving an unarmed crowd to rebellion.

In contrast, Fortinbras’ only followers are hired mercenaries (“lawless resolutes”, 1.2) and, later, soldiers directed to do by his uncle. His Polish adventure one of his own captains dismisses as a purposeless quest for “a little patch of ground” (4.4).

Fortinbras’ good fortune was to be in the right place and time when Denmark’s royal family of Hamlet self-destructed.

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In #Hamlet, no one delays longer than the land-grabbing opportunist, Young Fortinbras.

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Key Essay Topics Covered

  • Both Hamlet and Young Fortinbras share their dead fathers’ names and are princes in countries ruled by their uncle kings. But their motivations could not be more different.
  • Fortinbras never speaks of revenge; nor does any other character describe him as an avenger.
  • Fortinbras is an opportunist who is stirred to action by the death of Hamlet’s father rather than his own, suspecting Denmark “to be disjoint and out of frame” (1.2).
  • That his uncle can so easily bribe him into attacking Poland is proof that what drives Fortinbras is the prospect of land and military glory.

Key Supporting Quotes

18
quotations from the play to support your statements.

Conclusion: “Exchange forgiveness with me”

6

Theme of Revenge in Hamlet Sample Essays

24 pages
4,600 words
3 sample essays

$4.99

Theme of Revenge in Hamlet Sample Essays

Despite the nobles’ cry of “Treason” (5.2), the prince strikes his villainous uncle: with the poisoned sword (for his own death) and poisoned wine goblet (for this mother’s). It is more public execution than private vengeance. The ending brings not just comeuppance but forgiveness too: Laertes, the avenger Hamlet’s desire for revenge created, is also the man who pardons the prince.

As for old King Hamlet (“Alas, poor Ghost”, 1.5), by surrendering Denmark to his rival’s son perhaps the prince has granted his “dear father” (2.2) something more than revenge: forgiveness for his land-grabbing, “Extorted treasure in the womb of earth” (1.1) sins committed “in his days of nature” (1.5)—and with it escape from his suffering in the “sulfurous and tormenting flames” (1.5) of purgatory.

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#Hamlet grants his father not the revenge he demanded but the atonement his suffering soul needed more.

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Key Essay Topics Covered

  • Laertes exposes Claudius’ villainy (“The king’s to blame”, 5.2) and his offered exchange of forgiveness finally ends the cycle of vengeful violence.
  • Old King Fortinbras’ son does more than recover lands lost by his father three decades before; he succeeds to Denmark’s throne.
  • Prince Hamlet ends the play as King Hamlet began it: as a ghost, neither dead nor alive, fearing his life will be forgotten and story untold: “Remember me” (1.5), asked the father; “Report me and my cause aright” (5.2), says the son.
  • Has villainy been “justly served” by “providence” (5.2), or has the ending been just another turn of the “wheel” of “fortune” (2.2) of which the Players spoke?

Key Supporting Quotes

27
quotations from the play to support your statements.

You have the rest of your
life to appreciate Hamlet ...

but only a few hours
to finish your essay

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Also in the Hamlet Essaykit series:

#1: The Character of Hamlet

Born a prince, parented by a jester, haunted by a ghost, destined to kill a king rather than become one, and remembered as both the tragic hero and victim of a story he did not want to be in.

#2: The Character of Claudius

His “ambition” for Denmark’s throne leads him to commit one murder only to find that he must plot a second to cover up the first. When this plan fails, his next scheme leads to the death of the woman he loves.

#3: The Character of Gertrude

“Have you eyes?”, Prince Hamlet demands of his mother. Gertrude‘s “o’erhasty marriage” dooms her life and the lives of everyone around her when her wished-for, happy-ever-after fairytale ends in a bloodbath.

#4: The Character of Ophelia

As she struggles to respond to the self-serving purposes of others, Ophelia’s sanity collapses in Elsinore’s “unweeded garden” of falsity and betrayal. Her self-drowning is her revenge for her silencing and humiliation.

#5: Relationship of Hamlet and the Ghost

By surrendering Denmark to his rival’s son, Hamlet grants to the angry Ghost of his “dear father” the forgiveness his suffering soul needed more than the revenge he demanded.

#6: Relationship of Hamlet and Claudius

The relationship between uncle and nephew begins with mutual suspicion and dislike, escalates into a psychological battle of wits and ends with defeat for both and victory for the rival kingdom of Norway.

#7: Relationship of Hamlet and Gertrude

Gertrude’s marriage to Claudius and her collusion with the prince’s confinement at Elsinore creates a barrier between mother and son who are as different from one another as is humanly possible.

#8: Relationship of Hamlet and Ophelia

Begins in uncertainty, descends into mutual deceit and rejection, and ends with their double surrender to death: she to the water, he to Claudius’ rigged fencing duel.

#9: Relationship of Hamlet and Horatio

A genuine friendship in an Elsinore poisoned by betrayal. But does Hamlet exploit his frien’s loyalty with his improbable tale of rescue by pirates?

#10: Relationship of Claudius and Gertrude

A marriage of practical interest. Claudius wanted something (the kingship) he did not have; Gertrude had something (the role of queen) she wanted to hold onto.

#11: The Themes of Hamlet

Deception, revenge, madness, corruption, decay and death—all shaped by destiny. A prince is left with an impossible choice when his uncle chooses murder and his mother chooses self-delusion.

#13: Deception and Appearance versus Reality

‘Seems’ and ‘is’ are as far apart as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are similar in a play-long triple pun on the verb ‘to act’: to take action, to play a false role, and to perform in theater.

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